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Neiman Marcus and Target: Unlikely Brandfellows?

This time, I was prepared. The Missoni for Target limited partnership launch in September 2011 was fresh in my mind. That was the day I tried to buy the Missoni bicycle and watched the Target site crash literally the moment I clicked “submit order.” Forget finding it in the store. Each location had only one bicycle and by the time I arrived at the bricks & mortar shop, I saw a happy shopper rolling it out the door. I did pick up a few items – none really the right size and most of them castoffs from an ambitious but generous shopper’s overloaded cart. And I realized I am not cut out to be a competitive shopper. So in anticipation of the launch of the Neiman Marcus -Target Holiday Shop Collection, I set my alarm for 2am on December 1, clicked on the “must haves,” checked out quickly and then went back for a second pass. Success!

For those unaware of it, here is the concept in a nushell: a collection of 52 items by 24 designers; available at Neiman Marcus, Target, Last Call by Neiman Marcus, neimanmarcus.com and target.com; priced from $7.99 to $499, beginning December 1 until it sells out.

The next day, I marveled at how gullible I am to the tricks of my own trade. I just bought a bunch of cool clothing and gifts at full price. In a poor economy. Why? Because of the perceived exclusivity and scarcity of the goods. Well played, Target. Well played, Neiman’s. And this was only 8 days after Black Friday, when discounts of 50-75% are standard.  That’s powerful marketing.

Not everyone was as impressed. The initial read on the launch is that it fell short of sales expectations. The collection left many shoppers scratching their heads. Some considered the designers too obscure for a mass audience. Skaist-Taylor? Joseph Altuzarra? Others saw it as a random mish mash of unrelated stuff. On social media, Neiman’s devotees expressed “concern” for the brand. Concern, I gather, that the association with Target would drag down the luxury retailer’s reputation or crowd the jewelbox stores with hoi polloi. I’d say a brand best known for their outrageous five to seven-digit fantasy holidays gifts has a lot of latitude there. And Neiman’s probably has something to gain here in terms of invigorating the brand with the younger cheap-chic vibe of Target.

There is plenty of precedent for partnerships between designers and mass retailers, e.g., Vera Wang/Kohl’s, Jason Wu/Target. But what made this partnership different and interesting is that it brought together 2 competitors. Not really direct competitors mind you. It’s safe to say most Neiman’s shoppers do shop at Target for a variety of goods. It’s probably also true that many Target shoppers are new to the Neiman’s franchise. Still, it’s difficult to imagine another category or pair of retailers where this could work. Would we ever see Tiffany & Zales team up? Can you think of other unlikely brandfellows that might make sense? Let me know in the comments below!

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